Civil War Songs Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Heather Jenkins

Heather has a bachelor's degree in elementary education and a master's degree in special education. She was a public school teacher and administrator for 11 years.

Music is a part of every culture, country, or civilization. It can be used as entertainment or sometimes as a way to capture the current events of the time. In this lesson, you will learn about the songs popular during the American Civil War.

Songs of War

What's your favorite song? Does it tell a story? Is it fun to dance to?

During the American Civil War, songs were an important way for Americans to deal with the war raging around them. As the country divided between the Union (the north) and the Confederacy (the south), people were scared, confused, and angry.

Songs often capture feelings or real life events. Many Civil War songs captured people's patriotism, or their support for their country. And whether it was in support of the Union or the Confederacy, some songs were sung by troops to motivate them to fight and to encourage other people to support the troops.

Other songs told of battles and feelings that surrounded the fighting both on the battlefield and at home. What would it be like to have a cannon fired at you? How would it feel to send your son off to war?

Let's 'listen' up and examine some of the most famous Civil War songs.

An Anthem

Perhaps the most well-known song in the Confederacy was 'Dixie', written by Daniel Decatur Emmett. Although Emmett did not support the Confederacy, his song became known as its unofficial anthem, which meant that Confederates considered the song to be like a theme song for their group of states. Can you think of the theme song for your favorite show?

It was played as a campaign song against Abraham Lincoln and played by General Pickett as he led Confederate soldiers into battle at Gettysburg. 'Dixie' described life in the south, and the chorus went:

'I wish I was in Dixie, Hooray! Hooray!

In Dixie's Land I'll take my stand,

to live and die in Dixie.

Away, away, away down south in Dixie!'

Dixie was played at the Battle of Gettysburg.

A Hymn

After watching soldiers march in Washington, D.C. and hearing another song, 'John Brown's Body', Julia Ward Howe wanted to write different words to the wartime song. The next morning she wrote a poem to the song's tune. It was published in a magazine and called 'The Battle Hymn of the Republic'.

Battle Hymn of the Republic in Atlantic Monthly magazine

As the war went on, Howe heard that her hymn, or religious song, was being sung by Confederate prisoners of war. It was also used to inspire troops to march towards victory. The song's lyrics tell about God's judgment at the end of the world:

'Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:

He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;

He hath loosed the fatal lightning of his terrible swift sword:

His truth is marching on.

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